Opinion: How green is the Government's agenda?

Recession is at the gate and the casualties of a stuttering economy are already piling up. Will the UK's move towards a greener image be among them?

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

The question and the issues it raises for communicators are crucial. At the root of the slump are the surging prices of the very energies - oil, gas, electricity - that consumers are urged to use less of for environmental reasons. Inevitably, the reaction of the Government, which has long worn its green heart on its sleeve, has been to seek to mitigate the rises by engaging publicly in emergency discussions with the oil industry.

Separately, it has rushed forward packages of state aid for certain sectors of the population to enable them to maintain their levels of energy consumption despite the price rises. At the same time it is signalling clearly that proposed massive tax hikes in car duty and petrol tax will be shelved.

Thus the recent messages coming from the Government - and largely echoed by energy companies and regulators - have failed to enunciate clear priorities and any real sense of lasting green commitment. Some observers are left with the impression that the message is: pray energy prices fall back to a sensible level and we won't ever complain about silly things like sustainability again.

To others, the message coming through is that these catastrophic price hikes are some of sort godly visitation on a society that failed to listen to the green arguments about the need to replace energy sources.

For individuals and corporations truly committed to environmental improvement, the challenge is to counter the apparent uncertainty and hypocrisy of the current messages. Does the Government - and indeed, the main political parties - really have a green agenda? Or is it something that can be paraded in the good times only to be dropped when the chill winds of economic reality blow?

Consumers have always detected a whiff of double standards around the whole green agenda. Many see it as a lifestyle choice of the super rich and others as another government ruse to raise taxes.

They are struck by the flexible green credentials of an organisation such as UEFA, which staged its Champions League final between two English teams in Moscow, necessitating the avoidable environmental damage of flying 40,000 fans to a match that could have been played down the road. Cynical eyebrows are raised at the transportation by plane of tons of fruits from places such as China to be sold at sky-high prices under organic labels in the UK.

Thus the credibility of the messaging through tough economic times will be crucial in determining the sustainability of the green movement.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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